Three Days Dizzy
(An experience in liturgical vertigo—in which I lose my balance)
David R. Weiss, April 15, 2017
I wish I could just blend in. Odds are my desire to belong—to fit in—is every bit as strong as yours. There is no quiet thrill in my Holy Week discord. More truly a visceral dread. There are causes I gladly embrace. This diatribe is not one of them.
NOTE: I originally wrote this reflection-rant in April 2017, but did not post it at the time. It felt almost too raw–too likely to offend my readers. But it IS my truth. And because it may resonate with some of you, I post it today. It is my breathless attempt to stand beside the Jesus I know. And ultimately I would rather risk unsettling you with my words than betraying him with my silence.
Almost against my will, risking fracture in the very community I dearly want to call home . . .
I SWEAR—this man Jesus is a holy child of God, a sage-mystic-healer-prophet. He is Christ: chosen of God, and in his words and deeds—yes, in his life, death, and life-beyond-death—we meet the living God of the universe. This claim is so interwoven with me—I live and move and have my being within this conviction—that I would die for it. No proud claim there; simply the humble acknowledgment of how central this truth is . . . to my next breath.
And I SWEAR—this God whom we meet in Jesus is fiercest Love. Making justice, to be sure. Toppling powers, freeing slaves, overturning tables. No tame goodness, this deity. This God whose fierce Love filled Jesus’ frame to full incarnation, is no stranger to anger. But this thirst for a restored and fulfilled world is not . . . never was . . . never will be slaked by blood.
I SWEAR—from the founding of the Earth until this very moment, despite our overactive imaginations, God has not once needed blood to make history whole. Least of all—LEAST OF ALL—the blood of this holy Christ. Which is why these Three Days feel to me like an elaborate celebration of some grand lie that slanders God and makes the sheer redeeming miracle of Jesus’ holy—and wholling—life a mere prelude to the spilling of his blood.
Rendering unto us—I SWEAR—a god unknown to Jesus, for whom Love came even before alpha and ever after omega. For whom the whole of God is Love—first to last, and more!—such that our redemption . . . our ransom-rescue-restoration was set sure by God. Absolutely. Period. No blood. No bargain. Just. Because. Love.
So I SWEAR—before Jesus was even born (“in the beginning,” if you like) we were already loved to redemption. And in his life we see the power of that redemption—already accomplished—announced, unleashed, set ablaze. To the world’s great chagrin. Yet over these Three Days we think it wise to give God goddamned credit for the world’s murderous frenzy. As though by some false alchemy we can turn nails and thorns and cross and blood into a fitting sacrifice for sins already banished long ago by such fierce Love.
I SWEAR—it seems to me that we join Judas in betraying Jesus, in our case to a tale that cannot carry the truth of his life. It matters how you tell the story. For sure, he dined for one last time, and ventured out to pray, and was betrayed and taunted-tortured-timbered until he breathed his last. I don’t dispute these things. But gospel is that telling—that type and tone of tale—by which the truth contained therein takes life within our lives.
And I fear—I SWEAR—with all my dizzy heart, that the way we tell this tale these last Three Days, in fact betrays us, too. By framing Jesus’ birth as aimed all along toward death we fix outside the frame the actual coming of the kin-dom he declared in word and deed—which had no need of death to seal the deal. That death was inevitable—I don’t deny—but only on account of the life he’d lived. And there can be no life-giving telling that does not keep—in every prayer, in every song, in every word, in every breath—that lived Love front and center. Eclipse the mundane miraculous compassion of his life from the very heart of these Three Days . . . and all that’s left is lie.
And losing my balance, I SWEAR—the way we fawn on Good Friday over the suffering of this lamb comes damned close . . . to liturgical crush porn—somehow drawing our own unholy squeals of delight as innocent suffering squeezes life out of that one chosen of God. Is that too offensive to say? Did not the prophets say as much and more?
I admit: there is power in these days. That Jesus held fast his faith in God, his faith in Love, right through to his own death. No small witness to the truth he lived (but hardly the point either). And that we recognize—and announce—the resonance between his cross and the sufferings and injustices and abandonments that we may know today. There is real power in learning that God’s compassionate solidarity and boundless love chases after each of us even to the most terrifying places of our lives. I have no quarrel with these evocative claims.
But when we make them we must be very clear we are not mistaking the cross as being redemptive. And the responsibility to be unmistakably clear about this falls to us because for too much of Christian history we’ve made the opposite claim, and it still echoes unrepentant in our hymnody and liturgy, and we dare not make the right connection alongside the wrong connection and blend the two as one. I hear so many nice-sounding assertions that haven’t explicitly disentangled themselves from bloodthirsty atonement . . . and the result is empowering-potential . . . hobbled by being bound to blood. Such good news will never gallop.
I SWEAR—the gospel truth is not that Jesus’ death changes everything, but rather—PLEASE—that it changes nothing: the point is that the world’s murderous frenzy does not lessen Jesus’ love. Not even one bit. Does not unlive his life. Does not undo the incarnation—or the community called together by this man. In the face of this fierce Love, death proves powerless, though not because it cannot kill the man—it does—but because it cannot kill the Love his life unleashed.
And that is gospel worth an Easter champagne toast (which I once saw a pastor offer during an Easter liturgy). But I’m not sure we truly catch the threat behind the bottle’s pop. If this man lives—and you can take your pick between a raised body, an incorporeal spirit, or a revived community of followers—whether resurrection is medical miracle or mystical metaphor or something in between really does not matter that much.
Because if Jesus’ death is not about redemption in the least, then resurrection is not God’s stamp of “paid in full” upon the account that bears our name. Instead, however you choose to understand it, if it’s not about redemption, then resurrection is about launching our lives—fiercely and fearlessly—into love. And, reading the gospels, we know where that leads.
Which is why I SWEAR at last—if this man lives, then that sharp pop of Easter champagne poses to each of us this inquiry, even as the “Alleluia!” leaves our lips: “Okay, now which of you … is ready to love so recklessly you’ll get killed for it?”
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NOTE: I’ve wrestled with this theme multiple times in essays, poems, hymns. Here are a few others if this is a “Easter rabbit hole” you want to venture down …
2000/2001: (poem cycle) “Listening for Love While Avoiding the Violence”
2003: “The Cross and the Queer”
2004: (hymn) “It was upon a moonlit night”
2005: “The Queer Kingdom of God”
2010: “Taking Issue with Easter Lilies”
2014: (poem) “This ‘Alleluia’ in the Air”
2016: “An Easter Evening Reflection … on a Virtuous Zombie”
2017: “Holy Week and Wagging the Dog”